Hampshire & Isle of Wight

Ocado warehouse fire: Residents return to homes as explosion risk removed

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Media captionOcado warehouse fire: Flames and smoke seen from miles around

Residents evacuated from their homes after a large fire at an Ocado warehouse have been allowed to return.

About 100 people were moved on Wednesday night due to fears a three-tonne cylinder of toxic ammonia gas in the building might explode.

The fire service said the gas had been safely removed "meaning we can lift the evacuation zone".

Hundreds of firefighters have been at the blaze in Andover, Hampshire, since the early hours of Tuesday.

Nigel Cooper, from Hampshire fire service, said: "The toxic chemicals involved were extremely volatile and extremely flammable when involved in fire.

"Our main aim was to try to keep that fire away from those chemicals but unfortunately due to the complexities of the building and the ferocity of the fire they encroached slightly.

"[Because of that] we had to put that evacuation zone in for people's safety."

Image copyright HFRS
Image caption Ocado said the fire had caused substantial damage to the majority of the building

The gas was drained from the cylinder in the warehouse into tankers and taken away from the site, the fire service said.

Hampshire Fire and Rescue Services said the fire on the Walworth Industrial Estate was "no longer considered to be a major incident and roads around are the site are open".

But it added crews would be at the warehouse "for weeks".

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Image caption The scale of damage to the warehouse was revealed on Thursday morning
Image caption The fire at the warehouse flared up again on Wednesday evening

In June Ocado Engineering announced it had been given an award for the sprinkler system at the Andover warehouse.

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Image caption The fire created a plume of smoke visible for miles around
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Image caption Flames could been seen coming out of the building's roof on Wednesday night

Homes were evacuated and a 500m exclusion zone set up by firefighters after the blaze unexpectedly escalated late on Wednesday afternoon.

Some residents were moved to a hotel and a rest centre was set up in a nearby school.

People living nearby are still being advised to keep their windows and doors shut.

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Media captionAround 200 firefighters were deployed to tackle the blaze when it first broke out on Tuesday

Resident Andrew Perry said: "I came home from work and was stopped by the police - I'd rather be safe than anything else."

Donna Clough, whose home is one of the closest to the warehouse, spent the night in a hotel.

She said: "It's been a nightmare really - but all the community has come together.

"I'm really thankful to the police and fire brigade - I can't thank them enough."

Hampshire County Council said those affected by the fire had now been moved to alternative accommodation either with family and friends or at a hotel provided Ocado.

The rest centre set up at Harrow Way Community School overnight has now been stood down and the school is open as normal.

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Image caption The fire was declared a major incident by Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service

Stagecoach South said its bus services between Andover and Tidworth were being disrupted.

The fire broke out at the high-tech depot at 02:44 GMT on Tuesday. The fire service said the blaze involved automated packaging machinery.

More than 300 firefighters were sent to tackle the blaze on Wednesday afternoon, when it was declared a major incident.

Four have been treated for minor smoke inhalation, but no Ocado staff were injured.

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Media captionFootage shot in 2017 shows the distribution warehouse's robots collecting and packing groceries

Ocado said the fire, which started in a corner of the ambient grid, has caused substantial damage to the majority of the building and its contents. Part of the roof has also collapsed.

The online grocer said it expected a fall in sales until it could shift operations to other warehouses.

More than 30,000 orders are processed by robots at the Andover warehouse each week, but Ocado has not given any detail about what the impact will be to customers.

Ocado has apologised to those affected and said in a statement: "Ocado is grateful for the patience and understanding of customers during this period."

Ocado shares have dropped 14% and the retailer has warned of a hit to sales.

The Andover site accounts for 10% of Ocado's capacity.

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